A fire threw Atlanta transportation into chaos—again

How the internet reacted to yet another infrastructure failure
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Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport power outage
Passengers search for their luggage near rows of unclaimed baggage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

Photograph by by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

On Monday morning, as I rode on a MARTA train to Atlanta magazine’s downtown office, my southbound Red Line train screeched to a halt somewhere between Lindbergh and Arts Center stations, giving every passenger on board a peek at the dark and eerie underground tunnels that half of the system runs through. Five women with large suitcases sat near the doors. One sighed and looked at her friend. “We’re never getting out of this damn city, are we?”

The train started rolling a minute later, but anyone with ears (and a Twitter feed) knew why each airport-bound traveler was particularly exasperated this morning—their flight had been canceled when a fire at a Georgia Power substation caused a blackout Sunday afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, cancelling all flights and leaving thousands stranded. As of Monday morning, power is restored and passengers are slowly heading home, but here’s how the situation went down and what everyone was saying about it.

Just after 1:00 p.m. Sunday, a fire at a Georgia Power underground facility caused parts of Hartsfield-Jackson to lose power. Reports began rolling in on social media, showing darkened hallways and passengers stuck on planes. The FAA issued a ground stop for all flights.

Passengers stuck on planes began to chronicle their experiences:

Inside was no better. Dozens of video showed darkened hallways, sometimes with flashing emergency lights and blaring alarms. As the afternoon wore on, people began resting on baggage carousels and check-in desks.

My nightmare at the Atlanta airport….

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This is the worst experience ever! #hartsfieldblackout #atl

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The video of this employee sliding down an packed escalator to get to the bottom went completely viral:

As did the few celebrity tweets that emerged from hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones and, ironically, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx:

Like every other Atlanta disaster, The Walking Dead memes were inevitable

As were the Airplane memes

Power Outage at the airport

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By 6:30 p.m., all flights were cancelled.

Around 7:30 p.m., power returned to the international terminal, Concourse F. Mayor Kasim Reed (who held a press conference at the airport at 8:30 p.m., apologizing for the mayhem) tweeted just after 10:00 p.m. that all passengers had been deplaned. Also around 10:00 p.m., a miracle was announced: Chick-fil-A would provide food for stranded passengers—on a Sunday.

However—check the time stamp on this tweet from the Atlanta airport—1:13 a.m., about an hour after power was finally restored to the entire airport. So technically, it looks as though travelers received their free Chick-fil-A on Monday. But still.

The city opened the nearby Georgia International Congress Center for stranded passengers to stay, while others either stayed at the airport or traveled to other hotels. On Monday morning, planes were taking off again as Delta passed out doughnuts, muffins, water, and juice to morning travelers, but no major problem at the country’s busiest airport goes without consequences nationwide. Delta alone cancelled 1,000 flights on Sunday, and the airline waved change fees for passengers traveling to, from, or through Atlanta through today. Southwest offered the same deal for flights scheduled through Tuesday.

Here is the front page of Monday’s AJC:

And a critique of it:

Photos of the fire began emerging this morning:

As the dust settles, the Twitter commentary continues—conspiracy theories over the origin of the blackout; both angry and grateful travelers tweeting at airlines, reminders that while this blackout was a pain, Puerto Rico still has it a lot worse. A few colorful parting tweets we couldn’t help but chuckle at:

Can Atlanta get through the next two weeks without another fire-related disaster? We’ll see.

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